Midnight. Jan. 1. Richmond, Virginia.
There’s a hobo fire. We’re all around it when the clock hits midnight, when 2014 rolls itself out in Virginia. I’m solo this year, watching the other couples kiss, returning a squeeze around the waist received from a friend. She knows I don’t know where my husband is, don’t know what he’s doing, who he’s with. Knows that the only thing I know is that he’s not where he said he’d be. There’s a magnified silence in my brain – there’s so much to say in that minute, that first, fresh minute of the new year but no good place to start. I grasp at words – different, okay, change, go, leave – but they’re incoherent and out of step and so I just stop, smile, lie.
I’m ok. I’m good. Really.
Dinner. Feb. 14. Holbrook, Arizona.
It’s our third night on the road and we’ve already made it Arizona. We’re spending the night in a concrete wigwam, me and her and the dog, a Route 66 holdover, perfectly kitschy despite the showerhead that’s positioned at nose level. We try the diner up the street, but it’s closed, so we cross the street and head to a Mexican place, realizing we wanted tacos anyway. Maybe it’s the altitude, the beers or a cross-country road trip-induced madness, but we can’t stop giggling. The man at a table across from us – to be played by Willie Nelson in the movie about our trip – engages us intermittently, stands to leave, tells us to go to Winslow, that there’s a park where you can stand on the corner. We’re polite – smile, nod – he repeats himself, says it’s only about 25 miles up the road and in the direction we’re heading and then I burst into song, belting out The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” in a tiny Mexican restaurant in Holbrook, Arizona, giving absolutely zero fucks.
We download the song on the two-minute ride back to our wigwam, singing it loudly and probably off-key and it’s the happiest I remember feeling in months. Back in our wigwam, I stick the iPhone in the sink to amplify the song, and we sign it over and over again. We turn off the lights, turn the music off, but still, we spend our bedtime hours throwing lyrics back and forth across the room at each other.
We may lose and we may win, though we will never be here again
Morning. March 16. Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Mile 9 of the 13.1 I intend to run. I caught up to the 1:52 pacers and I’ve been with them for miles now. I’m tired. This is fast, faster than I intended on running, faster than I knew I could run, and there’s this screaming bit inside of me that just wants to slow the fuck down and enjoy the view, but I can’t. I just fucking can’t. I’m a week into 30 and three weeks into knowing a truth I fought for nearly a year to deny and at mile 9 I’m fueled almost entirely by the darkest, most angry parts of myself, the scariest bits, the violent bits. It’s hate that moves me forward, past the pacers at mile 10, as fast and as hard as I can manage. For once, I let it go, let the anger take over every part of me, let the violence overcome me and I push, hard, against the constraints of my body, all the way to the end. To 13.1.
Morning. April 18. Occoneechee State Park, Virginia.
I have to pee. But it’s cozy in the tent and I don’t feel like moving. I’m at a campsite two hours from home, alone, cell service is nonexistent and I’ve managed, for a few hours, to escape everything. It rained all fucking night but it doesn’t matter. I’m dry. The tent – that I set up myself – kept me that way. The fire I built – the first fire I’ve ever built alone – kept me warm late into the night as I read The Mists of Avalon and lit marshmallows on fire. This is a success, this solo camping endeavor. I settled into the silence, leaned back into the comfort of solitude and I’m fine.
It’s the last time I wear my wedding ring. It’s the end of it. I wear it as a precautionary measure, so I can say that my husband is on his way should I find myself afraid, as if the invocation of a man will save me from whatever trouble causes me to invoke his nonexistence.
Late Night. May 17. Richmond, Virginia.
I’m a mess. I want to stop. I don’t want to play anymore, I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to breath, I don’t want to do any of it. Fuck this life, fuck 30, fuck him, fuck me, fuck the whole fucking world. This is what the bottom feels like, crushed against my dining room wall, drunk of all the beers in my fridge, the rest of that bottle of bourbon, plus the remnants of some rum leftover from last year’s Halloween party. I’ve got my iPhone clutched in my hand, playing the saddest songs I can find on repeat, alternating between screaming the lyrics and singing them, throwing in some sobs here and there for effect. This is the bottom, kids. This is what it looks like when you reach the end of the rope, when you’re subsisting on booze, hate and heartbreak, the occasional pound of cheese, eaten out of spite more than hunger.
And here’s the scary thing about reaching the bottom: You’ve got a choice. Up or out.
10am. June 7. Nearing Charlottesville, Virginia.
My feet are kicked out in front of me and I’m comfortable in the back of a helicopter. There’s those mountains, my mountains, the mountains I was born in and I can’t help but smile when I see them. I feel good, but it’s been a busy week. A concert with Megan, the Head and the Heart, on her last night in Richmond. We sat in my car until past midnight, pouring ourselves out for one another, eating cheddar popcorn and me smoking cigarettes with the windows down. I went out with a man I’m wildly and terrifyingly attracted to. We wandered around a park, saved a toad from a walkway, brushed our hands across carvings left by lovers. And then there’s work. The 70th Anniversary of D-Day and today, an exercise with civilian partners, helicopters and me in the back, catching a ride to and from Charlottesville. Things feel different. Maybe it’s the time with Megan, a man’s attention, sleepless nights or a work schedule that won’t give me time to breathe, but I suddenly don’t feel like crying anymore.
It’s enough to sit and just be.
Noon. July 12. Richmond, Virginia.
I’m getting ready in his downstairs bathroom, door open, yelling obscenities at the other groomsmen and him – the groom – stopping in between curling chucks of my hair to take pictures of them posing with weaponry, buttoning shirts, pulling on socks, helping each other tie ties. There’s donuts and pizza and I declare, hair half-curled, that being a groomsman – or a groomslady in my case – is the best role I’ve ever played in a wedding. Fuck being a bride. Food, booze and guns is the groomsman’s game.
2pm. Aug. 11. Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Sometimes you just have to put yourself inside the mouth of a dinosaur. There’s no good reason not to, really. I’m in Tulsa, for work. There’s a zoo, which I visit since I’ve got time and really, when alone at a zoo, you can do whatever you want. I spend 25 minutes next to the bears, scowling at children who bang on the glass, imagining Harry Potter skills that put those bears on this side of the glass, gobbling up snot-nosed, over-sized brats in Dora shirts, maybe growling under my breath, being that batshit single lady at the zoo and reveling in every minute of it. I curse at some penguins, catch a bit of the seal show, stick my head inside the mouth of a dinosaur, hide from some geese, eat some fries and ride a camel named Ella.
Late night. Sept. 19. Napa Valley-ish, California.
I couldn’t nap and that first leg was all uphill, but fuck it. Here I am on the second leg, a nearly 9-miler, fully immersed in a Ragnar-induced sort of crazy. Six girls in one van, nonstop togetherness and we’ve laughed so hard I can feel my abs ache with every footfall. I didn’t think I’d have the energy to drag myself to the exchange, but when the van rolls by, the girls screaming my name, I’m hauling ass down the multi-mile downhill that starts this leg and I feel like I’m being carried by magic. This is insane, I think. This is perfect.
I promise you, there’s nothing like finding yourself and some sort of god on the left shoulder of a road in Somewhere, California, hungry, tired and aching, with miles to run and drive and go until you get a shower or a bed.
Dinner. Oct. 7. Richmond, Virginia.
He doesn’t even like eating breakfast for dinner but poaching eggs is on my list so we’re making Eggs Benedict for dinner. He’s determined to help me cross things off, determined to make a memory out of each and every mark I make to the list. I poach the eggs while he hand whips the hollandaise and the feel of him beside me in the kitchen is almost more than I can handle – he’s like a dream, this guy, too perfect to be real, and if I could craft a man for me, it’d be exactly him. I’m stove-bound, poking at swirling eggs, and he’s across the kitchen, engrossed in hollandaise creation but I can’t stop looking at him, at those eyelashes, his concentration, the smile he’s got, the lines of him.
I wanted to be endlessly bitter. That was the plan. Then this guy shows up, this guy who coaxes me to egg poaching, who helps me make tortillas, endures the dog fur and the cat hisses. He’s ruined everything – my whole plan – this man who falls asleep with my hand in his.
Early morning. Nov. 10. Fort Meade, Maryland.
I’m in charge, which is fine. I’m figuring it out, learning as I go. We’ve got more than 3 miles to go until we can all stop walking. Nothing like a pre-dawn walk with a pack on your back to start off the day. I’m checking in with everyone, walking up and down, back and forth, driving them all crazy, I’m sure, asking if they’re ok, asking if they talked to their kids last night, how the wives and husbands are doing in their absence, asking if they finished the assignments due today. I’m in full Army mode at this point. I didn’t know if I’d be ready for this. It feels like a mask most of the time, the Army part of me, but when I get into it, when I’m here, leading a group of my peers on a five mile road march, it’s one of the safest, most comfortable places I’ve ever been.
I’m ready, I think later, post-ruck shower. It’s time.
Evening. Dec. 16. Richmond, Virginia.
I’ve told him over and over how much I hate Christmas, how I spent the last two, how much they hurt, how lonely they were, but he’s determined. Relentless, really. He wanted this year to be different, so we’re Christmas tree shopping. He keeps picking up trees, shaking them out, holding them out for my approval asking what sort of tree I prefer, and I don’t even know, can’t even really form thoughts because he’s amazing and gorgeous and brilliant and his sole focus right now is making me happy, giving me a different sort of Christmas memory that doesn’t involve crying alone on the couch, and it’s working. I can’t avoid getting caught up in it all with him, can’t avoid being happy when I’m next to him, can’t stop myself from falling for him a little more each and every minute I spend with him.
In the middle, I wanted to burn 2014 to the ground, bury myself in some self-constructed grave and ignore the whole damn thing. Fuck life, I thought, more than I’d like to admit. But it got better, it got way better.
So cheers to 2015, to whatever it brings, good and bad and in between. To love, to loss, to more miles ran, more photos taken, more words written and more books read.